Great op-ed piece in the New York Times (if you’re able to get past the paywall) by Tony Schwartz about how stressful it is for most people with jobs. Relax! You’ll Be More Productive mentions the “doing less” strategy:
Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.
The idea is that time is not renewable, but energy is. It may seem counterintuitive to take time off and get more done, but if it refreshes your energy, it is a good trade-off.
An aside: Recently I heard a teacher of biodynamic craniosacral therapy talk about the body’s biosphere — the energy field that contains the physical body and extends 6 to 18 inches out from it.
He said that in his experience, the two biggest influences on the size (and therefore health) of anyone’s biosphere were (1) getting a good night’s sleep and (2) the health of the autonomic nervous system (i.e., the sympathetic fight/flight/freeze nervous system and the parasympathetic rest/relax/digest nervous system and the body’s ability to pendulate as needed between them).
Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.
The article notes that we experience cycles of approximately 90 minutes in which we move from alertness to fatigue in waking life and from deeper to lighter sleep. Researchers have found that elite performers take advantage of this, practicing uninterruptedly for about 90 minutes at a time, taking breaks to recuperate, and working no more than about 4.5 hours per day.
This can apply to ordinary people too — people who want to break out of dis-stress and make more of a contribution.
It’s not how long we work, it’s how well.
The goal is to recover from intense workouts and avoid exhaustion. Developing skill at relaxing quickly and deeply pays off.
So what can you do to take advantage of your natural cycles?
Here’s what I’m doing: When I am feeling productive and am working on a project, I set a timer for 90 minutes. When the timer goes off, I stop.
When I’m taking a break, I set the timer for 90 minutes. I might make tea and call a friend. Or I might do some light housework: wash the dishes, fold laundry, or sweep. I could take a walk, or listen to music, or take a nap. The point is to do something different with my energy that renews me.
And don’t be surprised if great ideas pop into your mind during your break time.
Here’s what Schwartz says his business does:
The power of renewal was so compelling to me that I’ve created a business around it that helps a range of companies including Google, Coca-Cola, Green Mountain Coffee, the Los Angeles Police Department, Cleveland Clinic and Genentech.
Our own offices are a laboratory for the principles we teach. Renewal is central to how we work. We dedicated space to a “renewal” room in which employees can nap, meditate or relax. We have a spacious lounge where employees hang out together and snack on healthy foods we provide. We encourage workers to take renewal breaks throughout the day, and to leave the office for lunch, which we often do together. We allow people to work from home several days a week, in part so they can avoid debilitating rush-hour commutes. Our workdays end at 6 p.m. and we don’t expect anyone to answer e-mail in the evenings or on the weekends. Employees receive four weeks of vacation from their first year.
Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.